Tom Swift Jr. didn't just dick around in that
flying lab; he actually did stuff.
The predominant reading among kids and some very unusual adults these
days, at least in terms of fiction, seems to be the Harry Potter series
by J. K. Rowling. In recent days millions of kids and most likely quite
a few pedophiles have stood in line outside bookstores to buy the next
installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Besides
the book, the movie versions have been extremely popular. The most
recent incarnation of Potter on film is Harry Potter and the Order
of the Phoenix.
All of this has got me to thinking about the books I read when I was a
kid. I liked non-fiction books about animals, and I liked science books.
But in terms of fiction, at least until I reached high school, I read
science fiction for the most part.
The series that I grew up on was the Tom Swift Jr. series. The books
were supposedly written by Victor Appleton II; but in fact that was just
a pen name for the publishing house called the Stratemeyer Syndicate,
who put out the books with a team of writers.
But they were good books. I enjoyed them to about the same degree I did
most other science fiction — which either tells something about the
abilities of the Stratemeyer writing team or something about my lack of
literary discernment, one of the two.
Tom Swift Jr. in another of his inventions.
I decided to look up the series again. Fortunately these days we have
the internet and there are a number of sites for this, including Bob
Finnan's excellent site.
The Tom Swift Jr. series was a continuation of the older Tom Swift Sr.
series, updated in terms of the science employed in the plots. Tom Jr.
was supposedly even more brilliant of a scientist and inventor than his
father. Each book would usually feature some new invention which
inevitably has to be employed to foil some villainous plot or which
turns out to lead to some challenging adventure that Tom Jr. and his
friends have to extricate themselves from.
In the first book of the series, for example, Tom Swift and his
Flying Laboratory, Tom invents a giant aircraft that can funtion not
only as supersonic transport for the crew but which also houses a full-
blown laboratory that Tom can use to continue his work even as the
aircraft speeds around the world. Almost as soon as the aircraft is
completed Tom is called upon to foil a plot by some bad guys to procure
a large amount of uranium for what will certainly prove to be nefarious
purposes. So I guess not a lot has changed since then, we're still
chasing bad guys trying to get hold of nuclear material. Too bad we
don't have Tom Swift these days to help out. Because you know that he
took the bad guys down in the first book and saved the world. Which is
what young, brilliant inventors tended to do back then. These days they
just go to work for Microsoft or Sony.
There's also a character in the series named Chow Winkler. Chow seems to
be a character pulled from another era and another genre, the old pulp
westerns. Tom and crew would come home after a long day of pushing their
new invention down the dusty trail and Chow would have some grub cooked
up for 'em, and they'd sit around and eat beans and hardtack with spoons
off of metal pie pans. Later, they'd all gather in the lab around the
old bunsen burner and sip what was left of the day's coffee out of tin
cups. And inevitably, somebody would break out a harmonica and before
you know it Tom would be singin' some sad song about a girl he never got
to kiss bein' such a nerd and all as the Sky Queen flew at twice the speed
of sound over the Pacific ocean.
Okay, enough of the spontaneous re-write. That stuff didn't happen.
Though there was a chuck-wagon cook named Chow Winkler thrown into the
stories for comic relief.
I don't remember how many of the series I read, but it was quite a good
While reading the Tom Swift series I happened across my sister's Nancy
Drew series. A hot young blonde solving mysteries? Now those were way
more interesting. I read them in secret, afraid I would be caught
reading "girlie" books. Little did they know what was going through my
head reading those. The Tom Swift series paled by comparision to what
was in my imgination reading Nancy Drew. Which is perhaps as it should be.
Ah, that's more like it. A cute blonde
who's actually a female.